Best of our wild blogs: 13 Feb 16

HSS at Temasek Polytechnic!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

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MacRitchie route for MRT line an irreversible error

JOEY GAN Today Online 13 Feb 16;

I am writing in to express my concern about the planned Cross Island Line.

I feel strongly that the line should be routed along Lornie Road, one of the two proposed alignments, to avoid it cutting under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (“Impact of Cross Island work on MacRitchie significant without LTA mitigation measures”; Feb 11).

Having worked in conservation previously, I have had the opportunity to conduct research in the forests of MacRitchie. It is a beautiful place that can only be harmed if works are carried out beneath the area. The impact of noise and smell on forest inhabitants cannot be fully understood or quantified even with an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Even with mitigation measures in place, it is likely to be near impossible to enforce these measures on a daily basis. Furthermore, works must be done around the clock, and this only exacerbates the situation.

The MacRitchie forest is home to one of the largest patches of primary rainforest and lowland swamp forest in Singapore. It is a national treasure.

I can appreciate that transport is a big concern, but in this situation there is a viable alternative. If this alternative is not taken, the consequences on our national natural heritage is irreversible.

We have already divided what was once the largest stretch of primary forest in Singapore into two fragments when we built the Bukit Timah Expressway through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. We then spent millions trying to connect the two via the Eco-Link@BKE. And now we are considering making a similar mistake at MacRitchie.

I implore the Minister of Transport and those involved this project to consider their decision carefully, for the sake of our forests and for Singapore.

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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5 new pups for Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park otter family

AsiaOne 12 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE - Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is now home to five new otter pups born to the park's famous otter family, affectionately called the Bishan 5.

The little ones made their online debut in a Facebook video posted by user Fast Snail, who often posts updates and photos of the park's resident otters.

Despite being the park's newest residents, the pups seemed familiar with the river as they frolicked in the water.

It is believed that the pups were born in December last year.

BREAKING NEWS - First Appearance of 5 new pups from Bishan-AMK otter family! Based on observation, these pups are born roughly on the last week of December 2015. They are currently ~1.5 month old.Guess, we should now call them "Bishan10" =)

Posted by Fast Snail on Thursday, 11 February 2016
The video quickly picked up steam on Facebook and several users left comments thanking Fast Snail for posting it.

Besides Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, the otters reportedly roam about in Kallang Basin and Marina Bay but Fast Snail said "luck and patience" is required in finding them.

These otters first gained national attention when the National Parks Board posted pictures and videos of the otter couple's SG50 triplets last year.

While sightings of otters began to spread around the island, not all of them were well-loved.

The critters made headlines again in April 2015 for allegedly feasting on ornamental koi at a resort and a home in Sentosa.

My Paper reported that the resort lost about $20,000 worth of koi while a Sentosa Cove resident lost about $64,000 worth of the ornamental fish.

In response, National Parks Board advised on its Facebook page: "If you ever encounter the otters, observe them from a distance, stay quiet and avoid flash photography as we don't want to frighten them. Let's not feed the otters as well - they have plenty of fish from the river to feast on, which keeps the ecosystem healthy too".

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Malaysia: Dengue fever cases still high in Selangor

The Star 13 Feb 16;

KLANG: Reported cases of dengue fever in Selangor are still high and there is no indication that the numbers will be decreasing soon.

Selangor Health Department Vector Department deputy director Dr Sharifah Malihah Wan Mustapha said infection trend in the state could be considered high as well.

She said Selangor has a very high number of cases because of various factors that were not present in other states, including high density population and rapid movement of people in and out of the state.

“There is also a lot of development here, and because of this the infection rate is on the high side.”

She said the major factor that contributed towards the infection rate in Selangor was the amount of garbage strewn all over the place, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Dr Sharifah Malihah said there were 7,239 reported dengue cases in Selangor in January and 2,355 cases from the 1st to the 11th of this month.

Selangor Health director Datuk Dr S. Balachandran urged the public to help ensure that the environment was kept clean to curb the Aedes mosquito from breeding.

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Malaysia still Zika-free so far

FAIRUZ MOHD SHAHAR New Straits Times 12 Feb 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is still free of the Zika virus so far, said the Health Ministry today.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said this was based on the monitoring activities and blood sample testing conducted by the ministry.

“National Public Health Laboratory and Institute of Medical Research have conducted ongoing lab surveillance work from June last year to Feb 10.

“A total of 393 blood samples were collected from patients who showed dengue symptoms and were tested for the Zika virus.

So far, all test results were negative.” he said in a statement, today.

He said the ministry had taken proactive measures to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

This includes issuing Zika Alert and administrative instructions for monitoring and management of Zika virus infections to all state health departments, agencies and other professional bodies that represent private medical practitioners.

The ministry is also monitoring international entry points in Malaysia.

Tourists who arrive from countries affected by Zika virus will be given health alert cards.

Necessary action will be taken if the tourist shows signs of Zika symptoms after returning from the affected countries within a week.

According to World Health Organisation, 33 countries had reported Zika virus cases from Jan 2014 to Feb 5.

Among the countries are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Venezuela and Maldives.

There is currently no vaccine available for the virus and no specific medicine can cure the disease.

Noor Hisham also advised the public to take precautionary measures and ensure their surroundings are always clean and free of Aedes breeding sites.

Those who show symptoms of the virus such as fever, body ache, rashes and conjunctivitis within seven days after returning from Zika-affected countries should immediately seek treatment at a clinic or hospital.

Health cards, monitoring of travellers from Zika countries
MICHELLE TAM The Star 12 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: Travellers from Zika-hit countries will be given a health alert card, with the Health Ministry closely screening international arrival gates to prevent the spread of the virus to Malaysia.

In a statement Friday, ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah stated that a “Zika Alert and Administrative Orders to Monitor and Manage the Zika Virus” guide was also distributed to all state health departments, agencies and professional bodies that represent private medical practitioners to prevent occurrences of the Zika virus.

From Jun 2015 to Feb 10 this year, 393 blood samples from patients who tested negative for dengue antigen NS1, were also tested in an ongoing lab surveillance by the National Public Health Laboratory (MKAK) and the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) to detect the Zika virus.

So far, all test results have been negative.

According to the World Health Organisation, 33 countries have reported Zika virus infections from Jan 2014 to Feb 5 this year.

At this time, there is no vaccine to prevent infections and no specific medicine to treat the Zika disease.

The public is encouraged to take preventive steps, especially by ensuring their surroundings are clean and free of Aedes breeding spots.

Each individual is advised to protect themselves from mosquito bites, via the use of long-sleeved tops, long pants, and repellent.

Those who experience any symptoms or signs of Zika infection such as a fever, body aches, rashes and conjunctivitis within a week of returning from any Zika-hit countries, should get immediate treatment at the clinic or hospital.

For further information, any questions on the Zika virus can be forwarded to the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre at 03-88810700 or the nearest district health office.

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Indonesia: Sumatran flood victims call for logistical, medical assistance

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 12 Feb 16;

Thousands of people affected by floods and landslides in a number of regions of Sumatra are calling on the government to provide emergency logistics and medical aid as the disasters have paralyzed activities in many places.

In West Sumatra, more than 5,000 villagers in the Pangakalan Koto Baru district of Limapuluh are in need of food and clean water for the next several days as floods triggered by heavy rains have inundated two subdistricts in the regency since Monday.

With floodwater up to 2 meters submerging two subdistricts, Pangkalan Koto Baru is so far the worst-hit area by this week’s flooding in the regency, located some 150 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Padang.

District head Andri Yasmen said on Thursday that some residents were still busy cleaning their houses and neighborhood.

While the victims had all received emergency aid, Andri said current logistics supplies were insufficient for the next three days.

“Frankly speaking, we cannot handle this if there is no outside help coming in,” he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Andri added that many residents had begun to suffer from itches as a result of being exposed to dirty water.

Separately, the head of West Sumatra’s Public Work Agency, Suprapto, said on Thursday that floods had damaged 1.2 kilometers of the national roads in the province, 3 km of the provincial roads, two steel-framed bridges and seven suspension bridges.

“We are now working to fix them,” he said.

In North Sumatra, heavy rains and strong winds have hit the municipalities of Medan and Binjai and the regency of Deli Serdang, forcing many locals to leave.

In Deli Serdang, floods have submerged dozens of houses in Sei Rotan subdistrict.

“Today we decided to look for a safe place because we are afraid our children will get sick as floodwater has inundated our house for three days and has not yet subsided,” said Lukman, a local resident.

The Binjai administration, meanwhile, has started to fix some bridges damaged by the floods.

“We will need three weeks at most to finish [the job],” said Nanang, the head of the municipal public work agency.

In Medan’s Maimon district, four houses on Jl. Mantri in Aur subdistrict were damaged by falling trees, which also injured a local resident.

Riau’s provincial administration, meanwhile, has declared an emergency status for floods and landslides considering the high rainfall potential and the expansion of floods that have so far claimed two lives.

“Apart from that, three regency administrations have already declared a flood emergency response status,” the head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Edward Sanger, said on Thursday.

Floods have hit three regencies of Riau: Kampar, Rokan Hulu and Kuantan Singingi. Leaders of the three regencies have declared an emergency response status, saying they were overwhelmed with anticipative measures.

Edward explained that by declaring an emergency response status, the provincial administration could arrange quicker regional budget disbursement for logistic supplies.

“The Riau BPBD has so far disbursed Rp 500 million [US$37,100] to help Kampar and Rokan Hulu regencies deal with the floods,” he said.

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Indonesia: Coral destruction shifts to eastern Indonesia

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 12 Feb 16;

Coral reefs and the marine ecosystem in the eastern part of the country are under threat, with more and more fishermen in the region resorting to the use of fish bombs, a survey conducted by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has revealed.

The survey, conducted in 2015, said that 73.91 percent of coral reefs in eastern Indonesia were damaged, compared to 66.13 percent in western Indonesia.

“In the western part of Indonesia, there has been a decline in the level of damage to coral reefs, But in eastern part, we tend to see deterioration,” LIPI coral reef researcher Suharsono said in a press briefing for the release of a report on the survey.

The survey found that from the 73.91 percent, 40.29 percent of them were in very bad condition, while 33.62 percent were in fair condition. Only 4.64 percent of the coral reefs were in excellent condition.

According to LIPI data, the condition of coral reefs in eastern Indonesia had started to deteriorate in the past decade.

The eastward shift in the use of the illegal fishing technique has also reversed the condition of coral reefs in the country in the past decade.

In 2000, only 58.72 percent of coral reefs in the eastern part of Indonesia were damaged. The figure for the western part of the country was 75.24 percent.

“In the past, fish bombing was rampant in western Indonesia. It’s illegal, but it wasn’t banned effectively. Therefore, the coral reefs there were badly damaged. But through government programs to raise awareness among fishermen, the situation has improved,” Suharsono said, adding that major islands in the western part of Indonesia had healthier coral reefs.

The destruction of coral reefs in the eastern part of Indonesia picked up speed on account of a lack of monitoring and global warming.

Due to climate change, waters in tropical coral reef are now warmer, a condition that could lead to bleaching of the reef.

“Let’s say the percentage of coral reef life there is below 30 percent. If El Nino hits, then the condition of the coral reefs will drop rapidly. If the percentage is above 60 percent, then the coral reefs will be able to recover quickly [from El Nino],” Suharsono said.

Scientists have raised the alarm over the accelerated rate of climate change for putting more pressure on coral reefs, one of the most biologically rich and productive ecosystems, which has served as a grocery and pharmacy for people for centuries.

In the past century, global temperatures had warmed by 0.7 degrees Celsius and those of the surface tropical oceans by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

The rise of baseline temperatures has resulted in widespread coral bleaching, where corals lose their colorful symbiotic algae and expose their white skeletons, leaving them vulnerable to death and outbreaks of coral diseases.

In 1983, bleaching killed 90 percent of coral reefs in the South China Sea, Sunda Strait, Java Sea, Bali and Lombok, while a similar event in 1997-1998 affected 80 percent of coral reefs in West Sumatra, South China Sea, Java, Bali and Lombok. The latest bleaching event occurred in 2010, affecting 30 percent of coral reefs in North and West Sumatra, Bali, Lombok and Wakatobi.

LIPI chairman Iskandar Zulkarnain said that sea waste may have also contributed to the deterioration of coral reefs in Indonesia.

“In the past, people were talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which was when the Pacific Ocean starting to look like a garbage dump. Now, the problem has shifted to the Indian Ocean. When our ocean starts to turn into a garbage dump, it will reduce the quality of our ecosystem slowly but surely,” he said on Thursday.

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El Niño set to have a devastating impact on southern Africa’s harvests and food security

Joint statement by FAO, EC-JRC, FEWS NET and WFP FAO 12 Feb 16;

FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; FEWS NET - Famine Early Warning Systems Network; JRC - European Commission's Joint Research Centre;WFP - World Food Programme

12 February 2016, Rome - Southern Africa is currently in the grip of an intense drought that has expanded and strengthened since the earliest stages of the 2015-2016 agricultural season, driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last 50 years.

Across large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Madagascar, the current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years. Agricultural areas in northern Namibia and southern Angola have also experienced high levels of water deficit.

Much of the southern African sub-region has consequently experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture re-growth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50 day delays in the onset of seasonal rains resulting in widespread crop failure.

Although there has been some relief since mid-January in certain areas, the window of opportunity for the successful planting of crops under rain-fed conditions is nearly closed. Even assuming normal rainfall for the remainder of the season, cropwater balance models indicate poor performance of maize over a widespread area.

Seasonal forecasts from a variety of sources (1) are unanimous in predicting a continuation of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures across most of the region for the remainder of the growing season.

The combination of a poor 2014-2015 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure.

South Africa has issued a preliminary forecast of maize production for the coming harvest of 7.4 million tonnes, a drop of 25 percent from the already poor production levels of last season and 36 percent below the previous five-year average.

These conditions follow a 2014-2015 agricultural season that was similarly characterized by hot, dry conditions and a 23percent drop in regional cereal production.

This drop has increased the region's vulnerability due to the depletion of regional cereal stocks and higher-than-average food prices, and has substantially increased food insecurity. Even before the current crisis began, the number of food-insecure people in the region (not including South Africa), already stood at 14 million (2), according to the South African Development Community (SADC).

As of early February, FEWS NET estimates that, of this total, at least 2.5 million people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and require urgent humanitarian assistance to protect livelihoods and household food consumption.

The numbers of the food insecure population are now increasing due to the current drought and high market prices (maize prices in South Africa and Malawi were at record highs in January).

Drought emergencies have been declared in most of South Africa's provinces as well as in Zimbabwe and Lesotho. Water authorities in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa and Namibia are limiting water usage because of low water levels. Power outages have been occurring in Zambia and Zimbabwe as water levels at the Kariba Dam have become much lower than usual.

While it is too early to provide detailed estimates of the population likely to be food-insecure in 2016-2017, it is expected that the population in need of emergency food assistance and livelihood recovery support will increase significantly. Additional assistance will be required to help food-insecure households manage an extended 2016 lean season.

In the short term, the following actions are required:

continued close monitoring of the season to inform decision-making on programming and targeting;
immediate additional assistance to help currently food-insecure households;
updating of contingency plans, intensification of advocacy and resource mobilization to address the impact of an extended post-2016 harvest lean season;
increased awareness-raising of the need for a regional approach to address the effects of drought that are becoming more frequent and intense.

Over the coming year, humanitarian partners should prepare themselves for food insecurity levels and food insecure population numbers in southern Africa to be at their highest levels since the 2002-2003 food crisis.

El Niño is causing global food crisis, UN warns
Severe droughts and floods have ruined harvests, and left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages
John Vidal The Guardian 17 Feb 16;

Severe droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded have left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases including Zika, UN bodies, international aid agencies and governments have said.

New figures from the UN’s World Food Programme say 40 million people in rural areas and 9 million in urban centres who live in the drought-affected parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland will need food assistance in the next year.

In addition, 10 million people are said by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) to need food in Ethiopia (pdf), and 2.8 million need assistance in Guatemala and Honduras.

Millions more people in Asia and the Pacific regions have already been affected by heatwaves, water shortages and forest fires since El Niño conditions started in mid-2015, says Ocha in a new briefing paper, which forecasts that harvests will continue to be affected worldwide throughout 2016.

“Almost 1 million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in eastern and southern Africa. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, southern Africa regional director of the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

“Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. The situation is aggravated by rising food prices, forcing families to implement drastic coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and selling off assets.”

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said: “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) said in a briefing paper: “Even if it were to start raining today, the planting window for cereals has already closed in the southern part of the region [Africa] and is fast closing elsewhere. There has been a steep rise in market prices of imported staple goods. This is restricting access to food for the most vulnerable.”

According to the World Health Organisation, the heavy rains expected from El Niño in Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay and southern Brazil could increase the spread of the Zika virus. “The Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds in standing water. We could expect more mosquito vectors which can spread Zika virus because of expanding and favourable breeding sites [in El Niño-affected countries],” the organisation said.

El Niño conditions, which stem from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years. This year’s event is said by meteorologists to be the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, its effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last two years or more because of failed harvests and prolonged flooding.

“Insufficient rains since March 2015 have resulted in drought conditions. In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,” said an Ocha spokesman.

“Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” said Abdoulaye Balde, WFP country director in Maputo. “South Africa is 6m tonnes short of food this year. But it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region. If they have to import 6m tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe, which declared a national emergency this month, has seen harvests devastated and food prices soar, according to the WFP in Harare. It reports that food production has halved compared to last year and maize is 53% more expensive. It expects to need nearly $1.6bn in aid to help pay for grain and other food after the drought.

Malawi is experiencing its first maize deficit in a decade, pushing the price 73% higher than the December 2015 average. In Mozambique, prices were 50% higher than last year. The country depends on food imports from South Africa and Zimbabwe, and faces a disaster if rains do not arrive in the next few weeks, said Balde.

Fears are also growing that international donors have been preoccupied by Syria and the Ebola crisis, and have not responded to food aid requests from affected countries.

“El Niño began wreaking havoc last year. The government has done its best to tackle the resultant drought on its own, by tapping into the national food reserves and allocating more than $300m [£210m] to buy wheat in the international market,” said Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“But the number of people in need of food assistance has risen very quickly, making it difficult for Ethiopia to cope alone. For the 10.2 million people in need of aid, requirements stood at $1.4bn. The Ethiopian government has so far spent $300m and a similar sum has been pledged by donors. The gap is about $800m,” he said.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, set up by the US international development agency, USAID, in 1985, continued below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in southern African well into 2016, with the food crisis lasting into 2017.

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Four billion people face severe water scarcity, new research finds

Water shortages affecting two-thirds of world’s population for a month every year and the crisis is far worse than previously thought
Damian Carrington The Guardian 12 Feb 16;

At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis.

The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought.

The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down.

Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London.

Water scarcity map

These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.

“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”

Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala acquifer, which is being depleted.” He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year.

“The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.

Farming is the biggest user of water and the growing global population requires more food. Furthermore, changing diets are having a major impact, as people with rising incomes eat more meat.

“Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is via meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle.

Another unique aspect of the new research was that it included environmental water requirements, ie the water needed to ensure that life survives in the rivers and lakes. Fish can be important sources of food for people, who also use waterways for transport.

Even just one month of severe water scarcity can have a devastating impact on the health of a river, said Hoekstra: “An empty river is not a river.” Rivers that run dry before they reach the end of their course, or come close to doing so, include the Colorado river in the western US and the Yellow river in China.

David Tickner, chief freshwater adviser at WWF-UK, said: “This paper is another pointer to the urgency of this challenge. Billions of people, and many economies, are increasingly suffering because of water-related risks which could be better managed. The same risks are causing a collapse in aquatic wildlife around the globe.”

Hoekstra said caps on water use should be put in place for all river basins, companies should be transparent about how much water is needed to make their products and look to reduce it while investors should incorporate water sustainability into their decision-making.

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Parched Earth soaks up water, slowing sea level rise: study

AFP Yahoo News 11 Feb 16;

Miami (AFP) - As glaciers melt due to climate change, the increasingly hot and parched Earth is absorbing some of that water inland, slowing sea level rise, NASA experts said Thursday.

Satellite measurements over the past decade show for the first time that the Earth's continents have soaked up and stored an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, the experts said in a study in the journal Science.

This has temporarily slowed the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent, it said.

"We always assumed that people's increased reliance on groundwater for irrigation and consumption was resulting in a net transfer of water from the land to the ocean," said lead author J.T. Reager of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"What we didn't realize until now is that over the past decade, changes in the global water cycle more than offset the losses that occurred from groundwater pumping, causing the land to act like a sponge -- at least temporarily."

The global water cycle involves the flow of moisture, from the evaporation over the oceans to the fall of precipitation, to runoff and rivers that lead back into the ocean.

Just how much effect on sea level rise this kind of land storage would have has remained unknown until now because there are no land-based instruments that can measure such changes planet-wide.

The latest data came from a pair of NASA satellites launched in 2002 -- known as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE).

Researchers learned that the "water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world's seventh largest lake," said a NASA statement.

Researchers said the findings will help scientists better calculate sea level changes in the years ahead.

"These results will lead to a refinement of global sea level budgets, such as those presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, which acknowledge the importance of climate-driven changes in hydrology, but have been unable to include any reliable estimate of their contribution to sea level changes," said senior author Jay Famiglietti, a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

"But we'll need a much longer data record to fully understand the underlying cause of the patterns and whether they will persist."

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